Dark Shadows REVIEW

Insert your own fellatio joke here.

Release Date: 11 May 2012
12A | 113 minutes
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller

Ever wonder why British soaps are taciturn and gritty, while US soaps are full of evil twins and alien abductions? Well, in the late ‘60s, while British kids were thrilling to the adventures of Camberwick Green, their American counterparts were rushing home to watch the latest instalment of Dark Shadows, a gothic and supernatural soap opera featuring vampires, werewolves and enough parallel dimensions to make Stan Lee weep. Tim Burton was apparently a fan; indeed he pretty much owes his entire career to its gothic atmosphere, blaring theremins and kitsch set design. So why then does this adaptation feel so… lifeless?

It’s hard to blame the actors – Johnny Depp certainly gets his long wiggly claws into Barnabas Collins, the vampiric patriarch who manages to escape 196 years of imprisonment, only to find himself spat out into the early ‘70s, determined to restore his family’s name. Most of the best moments in the film are found in Barnabas’s attempts to make sense of this heightened version of the ‘70s, a confusing place where women can be doctors, and men can be called Alice. The retro ambience is laid on pretty thick, to the point where someone can scarcely leave the room without accidentally taking part in a game of Twister.

Sadly, seemingly suddenly remembering that Dark Shadows was a melodrama and not a comedy, the second half of the film is far less fun, and while plot strands and lines are pretty much lifted wholesale from the original show, entire characters (like Jonny Lee Miller’s Roger Collins) seem to have no point in existing. The script feels half-baked and meandering, and you’re never really sure why any character is in love with any other character, other than that that’s just the way it is.

In a parallel universe, the awesome Tim Burton managed to create a Dark Shadows that combined the weird family fun of Beetlejuice with the purposely-bad acting and wobbly sets of Ed Wood, and turned this soap into his gothiest weird-fest yet. Sadly, in our universe he’s completely missed the opportunity, creating a flaccid film that might as well be a straight-to-video Addams Family sequel.

Jon Hamblin

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